Warsaw, Poland Part 1: Sight-seeing and The Gift of Communism

Royal Palace in Warsaw, Poland.

I found Warsaw to be an amazing city full of life. After taking over over the privilege of being a capital city from Krakow some four hundred years ago, Warsaw has made great strides in politics, economics and culture. Just take a look at the range of arts in Poland and you’ll soon realize that for them to exist there must be a tolerant political party and the right amount of money to make it all happen.

You might think Warsaw has always looked the way it does but you’d be wrong. Due to a major revolt during World War II, Warsaw bore the brunt of Hitler’s wrath and was levelled by a massive bombing campaign. Warsaw, and Poland itself, was eventually “saved” by Russia. Finally, enduring Communism after the war, Poland rebuilt itself being faithful to the original layout, design and architecture where possible. Warsaw, I believe, now stands as a pinnacle of recent Polish achievements.

I’ll give it to the Poles for having some pretty amazing museums. The uber-cool Chopin Muzeum was enough for a 2 hour visit, though I’m sure you could stay longer listening to all the exhibits (entrance is free on Tuesdays). This museum is “interactive” which means you get this little keycard programmed with the language of your choice to unlock some of the exhibits. Pretty cool I thought. There was this one exhibit where you sat down at a desk and flipped through a blank book except for a small barcode at the top. As you flipped through the book the barcode would be scanned and pull up the next page. This allowed you to listen to different compositions while reading about the people in Chopin’s life. Some of the exhibits didn’t work but, overall, I enjoyed my visit to the museum.

Kudos also to the Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie (The National Museum). Massive. I took two hours to go through the painting gallery only to realize that there were still entire collections of Greek, Roman and Egyptian artifacts to be examined, mulled over, and make my brain mushy from cultural experiencing. Well worth the price of admission.

And then there was this other museum, I forget the name, but on display was some bizarre (to say the least) collection of modern art by an artist named Katarzyna Korza. O.M.G. She made this one piece of art from a dead horse, cat, and dog and stacked them up onto each other. I didn’t understand the history of the work but apparently it wasn’t well-received. Animal rights activists voiced their opposition and may have said some bad things to her and about her… and that sent Ms. Korza in a completely different direction. So she decided to lay bare everything. I mean… everything.

She undressed, shaved her head, took photos and, if that wasn’t enough, made a short film, titled Il Castration, about a woman who attends a gay party dressed as a man: complete with a 6-pack abs, and male accoutrements. I hope travel has broadened my mind at least a little but I had trouble understanding, and watching, this film. This film showed this woman get found out, undressed and castrated. This is art folks.

This.

Is.

Art.

I imagine Polish parks would be better in the summer, so too the cemeteries. I thought it was cool to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (in Saxon Garden) guarded all day and all night. Respect to the dead. Oh, and don’t walk into the tomb area or else the Honour Guard might have to say something to you.

Speaking of respecting the dead, I did spend one afternoon observing the well-sculpted tombstones in Jewish and Christian cemeteries. I don’t normally go to cemeteries but if I were to go again I’d go on a day when it’s not drizzling and more depressing than a Hollywood movie about the holocaust. Apparently the cemeteries contain the remains of some famous folks but I couldn’t find anybody I’d heard of.

Lastly, Warsaw’s most noticeable monument, the Pałac Kultury i Nauki (the Palace of Culture and Science), is also a great beacon for those nights when you’ve forgotten where your hostel is. I’m told it’s best to visit if there’s an exhibit going or on a clear night so you can see the city at night. The tall building (pictured below) is a gift from Stalin. Some folks think it should be torn down, others think it’s a symbol of the city. Anyway, I like the building because they light it up with all these pretty colours at night, green, orange, purple, and blue! Puurrty. Who said Communism couldn’t be colourful?

A Stalinist building in Warsaw, the Palace of Culture and Science.

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